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Todd Oliver & Friends put on a ‘something-for-all-ages’ performance Saturday at the Historic Ritz Theatre.

Posted: Tuesday, April 21, 2015 11:38 pm

By ELSIE HODNETT, Home staff writer

If you’ve ever wondered what a dog thinks, the Todd Oliver & Friends performance at the Historic Ritz Theatre on Saturday answered those questions and more.

It was a great event with truly something for all ages, with about 50 to 60 kids in a crowd of almost 300.

Oliver travels the country with “talking” dog Irving and a “real” cast of characters — Pops, Miss Lilly and Joey.

And Irving had quite a lot to say – -both on the subjects of pets and doggy thoughts, but also on things like upcoming presidential elections.

It was clean, great humor that had everyone laughing.

And it did exactly what Ritz Executive Director George Culver wanted; it brought the theatre a show that makes a great fun outing for the whole family.

“He is so wonderfully unique, and with his humor with the dogs and other ‘friends’ is so universally appealing,” Culver said. “That’s why we wanted to bring Todd to The Ritz.”

Oliver shared his journey to becoming a ventriloquist, which related with his keyboard-playing skill (nicely shown) and sent the message to work hard at whatever you do to become successful.

And Irving, ham that he was, kept sneaking back onstage for another shot at voicing his opinion, much to the enjoyment of the kids in attendance.

Oliver’s interaction with the crowd showed that if you try to “volunteer” a friend, you just might end up onstage yourself.

After the show, Oliver and Irving posed for many a picture, with Irving even shaking hands — well, paws in his case.

It truly was a show where I laughed myself silly, enjoying every moment as much as the 4-year-old two seats over.

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Oliver pulls out the laughs for smiling Shuler crowd

By Tim Keller — For the Comet | Posted: Friday, February 13, 2015 12:00 am

RATON – Entertainer Todd Oliver returned to the Shuler Theater last week — he was here 20 years ago — and demonstrated his mastery at providing a rollicking good time to everyone in a large all-ages audience.

He doesn’t do it alone. He pulls his friends Joey, Pops, and Miss Lilly from travel cases, while three live musicians walk themselves onto the stage. Oliver also incorporated three audience members into the show onstage Wednesday night (Feb. 4). The center of the show, though, is a pug- nosed terrier named Irving.

The show opened with a short black-and-white film produced to look like it was made in the 1950s, complete with laugh track. A young boy takes an interest in ventriloquism but one look at the $300 price tag on a mail- order ventriloquist’s dummy leads his mom to suggest the boy try something else. As she walks away, the boy turns his eyes across the room to the family dog, apparently acted by Irving.

”Pops” and “Miss Lilly” banter with funny man Todd Oliver during a performance at the historic Shuler Theater in Raton Wednesday (Feb. 4).

The pair are two of three ventriloquist’s dummies that travel with Oliver for his shows. They’ve all gotten to know each other well over the years. Oliver last performed at the Shuler Theater 20 years ago.

Thus the audience learned how Oliver came to use a live
dog as his ventriloquist’s “dummy.” But Irving is no
dummy: he’s a great comic foil for Oliver, and sometimes
smarter than Oliver — although, let’s admit, Oliver writes Irving’s lines.

Their opening dialog stacked joke after joke at breakneck speed, barely allowing one laugh to end before the next began. The family show came no closer to topical material than a reference to President Obama’s birth certificate—rescue dog Irving can never run for president because he doesn’t have one — and another to Kanye West and wife Kim Kardashian — Irving says, “He’s black, she’s white, I’m black and white, I could be their kid.”

The pair did extended segments on Irving’s job as a Wal-Mart greeter —it’ll be hard for audience members to ever again hear “Welcome to Wal-Mart” without laughing—and on how Irving spends his days. “I went outside. Then I came back inside. I went outside. Then I came back inside,” Irving droned on and on. The next day, audience members were overheard laughing as they recited the dog’s comic

mantra.

Oliver writes songs, sings, and performs on electric guitar, electric piano with his band The Smiling Eyes —lead guitarist Mike Donoho, bassist Marcus Willett, and drummer Jeff Hauschildt. A half-dozen songs were interspersed throughout the 90-minute set to accomplish what Oliver termed “a modern variety show.”

The heart of the show, though, is comedy, and it’s produced through ventriloquism. Oliver eventually got successful enough to buy himself three ventriloquist’s dummies to augment his dog act. His first dummy, young Joey, emerged onstage from his travel case actively complaining about having to travel inside the case. “It’s hot, it’s dark, there’s no HBO — I might as well be in Maxwell.”

Oliver incorporated local humor along with distinctly different voices for Irving and each of Oliver’s dummies. Pops has the voice of an old black man. In a high woman’s voice, Miss Lilly defends her big buck teeth. “My teeth are straight, it’s my face that’s crooked.”

Oliver had audience members write questions for Irving on slips of paper in the lobby before the show. (The most Zen-like was “Where am I?”) Oliver and Irving used the audience questions for an extended session of comic improvisation.

Then Oliver walked through the audience to choose one woman and one man — Pat and Ray —to come on stage where they learned that they were about to become ventriloquist’s dummies. They opened their mouths whenever Oliver squeezed their necks, and he gave them words and sounds they never would have made themselves. The audience roared.

Simple and effective, Oliver’s family variety show delivered a steady stream of laughter. Many in the audience are likely hoping that he won’t wait another 20 years to bring his show back to the Shuler.

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Animal antics | Act with ‘talking dog’ brings out laughs at theater

BY STEVE PALISIN spalisin@thesunnews.com

No bones about it: Irving “the Talking Dog” never shows one iota of stage fright.

With his owner, Todd Oliver, the lines fly from the 6-year-old Boston terrier nightly during “One the Show,” at the Alabama Theatre, in Barefoot Landing in North Myrtle Beach. After they walk together on stage, Irving goes leashless in his own seat.

The pair will continue with their skits through Oct. 26, but will be out of town Sept. 27-Oct. 1. Animals star on stage and in the limelight at several places across the Grand Strand, especially on the equestrian end year round at Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament.

Look for a lot more from Irving besides maybe singing the trademark line from “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?” at the Alabama Theatre. He’s quite the bouncing board for punch lines.

A crowd with people of all ages at the first show of this month laughed out loud during Oliver and Irving’s eight-minute skit. Asked what he thinks “of Myrtle Beach,” Irving will get frank from envisioning a female: “I don’t know. Where is she sitting?”

When the subject turns to who scratches whose back, Irving voices his approval, never mind dealing with fleas: “That’s good; I like it.”

Theatergoers flocked around Oliver and Irving for photos during the whole intermission. Again, Irving looked used to the whole setting, never flinching with nerves.

With mic in hand, Oliver also got serious for just seconds, reminding the audience about the mutual benefits of adopting a pet. “They know it,” he said, speaking for so many pets in need of a home getting a second, or only, chance.

Speaking more leisurely a few hours before another show, Oliver said his 17-pound sidekick’s favorite treats are bites of cheese, American and Cheez-Its.

“He loves anything that comes out of the refrigerator,” Oliver said. “You have to watch it.”

Oliver declared Irving isn’t a show dog. He’s never attended a “live dog show” to pick up points and ribbons at a kennel club gathering to meet his breed’s standard.

“He’s a personal pet,” Oliver said as Irving dozed beside him on a couch. “He’s my dog that comes and does the show with me.”

Irving is one of three dogs at home in Saddlebrooke, Mo., along with two “good ranch dogs” found on a roadside and welcomed into the family.

Outside of the show, when he and Irving visit school assemblies, Oliver shares a “subtle message: about using time wisely and amassing skills and talents to use as adults.

“That’s what happened to me,” Oliver said, voicing the path that ventriloquism paved for him.

Frequenting the local library often as a child and fatherless from age 10, Oliver said “my dreams have come true” since that time and first “working my act for free, and the audience is a great teacher.”

“You get a great education when you volunteer,” Oliver said of visiting schools, building on many years of school assemblies and visiting places such as a Shriners Hospital for Children in St. Paul, Minn.

Oliver also voiced the importance for “families to laugh together,” such as on a picnic or watching entertainment.

“My folks were always laughing when I was a kid,” he said, remembering that although his father, an airline mechanic, endured three strokes and lost his expression of vocabulary, “he never lost that sense of humor.”

Oliver has performed on various TV series and shows, including “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and “Late Show with David Letterman,” the latter for which he was among five featured ventriloquists taking turns in one week.

A TV pilot with Irving, “Todd Oliver & Friends,” is being pitched (www.funnydog.com) to networks for a series, and Netflix carries “Todd Oliver: Funny Dog.”

He has enjoyed this summer in a setting among a “top notch” cast at the Alabama Theatre he praised repeatedly, adding to his resume of performing around the world, “the Bahamas and Tokyo included.”

Having grown up in the 1960s and ’70s, Oliver said that era provided more venues for entertainers to work their craft.

“A live show in a theater is a new experience for a lot of people,” he said, “because they’re used to viewing entertainment on phones, computers and television.”

Oliver also pointed out how a few minutes twice in a revue such as “One the Show” – amid genres of hit songs such as Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park”; the Charlie Daniels Band’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”; Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September”; and “Bring Him Home” from “Les Miserables” – provide a different challenge in building “a relationship with the audience,” hence the need to connect and “work fast” with a routine.

“The great thing for a ventriloquist,” Oliver quipped, “is you get to see what the dummy has to say.”

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Here’s what other people are saying about Todd and Irving:

“You just knocked us over! So funny and amazing. Thanks for being on our show”
Penn & Teller

“The audience loved Todd. It was one of the best family shows we’ve had”
Don Volk, Executive Director, Paramount Theatre Centre

“Original…Fresh…a Top Notch Professional”
Jim Everett, Princess Cruises

“The audience, young and old alike, laughed from beginning to end!”
Louanne Lewitt, Claremont Opera House

“The show was Awesome!”
Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.

“The response from everyone, from inside the US and from other countries, was unanimous…you were great!”
Francis Seppala, 3M Corporation

“Todd, your act with Irving is absolutely wonderful”
Paul Harvey, Nationally Syndicated Radio Host

“You’re fantastic”
Nashville Now, Ralph Emory

“To sum up Mr. Oliver’s performance:
It was fantastic, the highlight of the convention.”
Educational Funding Company